So this is how the fictional Carringtons and Ewings live.
Inspired by the Four Seasons Georg V Hotel in Paris, The Palace at Coral Gables luxury senior living rental community puts the ‘O’ in opulence.
Twilight “stars” flicker over a swimming pool. Chandeliers sparkle. Marble floors spill forth from a winding staircase. Even the refrigerators in the residential apartments are layered with wooden cabinetry, hand-picked by co-owner Helen Shaham.
“I wanted it to look like furniture,” she says.
She tells how the gold ochre marble on the second floor took two years to cut and place after she spotted a design in Spain. She points to an ornate table centered atop the pattern. “That table has to fall exactly there,” she says.
“We just want perfection, that’s it,” Shaham says of the $100 million project on Andalusia Avenue — its price tag affirmed by Mario García-Serra, the GreenbergTraurig attorney who was instrumental in putting the project together since its 2005 inception.
The facility is the latest public/private venture in Coral Gables and one that addresses the needs of its senior citizens, a growing group that represents more than 20 percent of the city’s population.
“Several years ago, the City Commission identified the area of which our seniors were leaving our community when they sold their houses and we didn’t have a place for them to stay,” said Vice Mayor Bill Kerdyk Jr. “The commission identified this location as one where we wanted a senior citizen facility. This really helps us to revitalize our Miracle Mile and downtown area. There are 200-plus seniors living downtown who will patronize our shops. It’s a win-win for the city.”
Coral Gables also owns the land and pockets a base rent that starts at $120,000 in The Palace’s first year and will climb each year until it reaches $250,000 by year 15. It then remains at that rate to the 31st year, when rent will go to $255,000 and increase by 2 percent annually. The facility has a 99-year lease with the city.
The Palace at Coral Gables expands the empire Helen and husband Jacob Shaham have been building since 1980. The Palace Group has independent living, assisted living and nursing and rehabilitate care residences in Kendall, Homestead, Weston and Tel Aviv, Israel. The couple’s children Zack and Haim work with the family run company, which houses 1,800 seniors and employs 1,200.
The Gables site employs about 80, who staff the gym, clinic, kitchen and bars, concierge desk and valet, along with a full-time activities director, personal trainer, nurses and four chefs. When The Palace Coral Gables is full it will provide home to about 240 residents. Sixty people now live in the facility; 70 percent of the units have been sold, said Adam Rosenblum, marketing and sales vice president.
Most of the residents are independent, though the third-floor one-bedroom and studios offer catered living arrangements for those who have more health and medical needs.
Living here is for the well-heeled. Monthly rent runs from $4,620 for a 476-square-foot studio to $7,650 for a 1,110-square-foot two-bedroom, two-bath apartment.
As part of the package, residents get a continental breakfast and dinner — a buffet lunch is $8 extra — utilities, weekly housekeeping, transportation to doctor’s offices and shopping, and more than 150 activities, which include Zumba, Tai-Chi, afternoon teas, sculpture and creative writing classes, meditative drum circles, bingo and happy hours. There also are theatrical performances and concerts.
Each unit has a balcony that overlooks the city. The living areas are small, as the emphasis is on getting people out of their rooms.
“If you rest, you rust,” says Rosenblum. “We’re like a cruise ship that doesn’t leave the port.”
The Goldszers moved to the Palace at their son’s prompting.
“My husband is 93, I’m 90. We were in intensive care. We were dying. Our son is a physician and he took us from the hospital to The Palace. And look at us now,” Bicky Goldszer said from a lounge topped off with a grand piano. “I had three devastating falls before coming here. He feels in this environment I have more security about not getting into another accident. What happened is they eliminated all the stress from our lives. Doctors come here, a therapist comes here. If you’re not downstairs for happy hour they knock on your door and ask, ‘Why don’t you come down and party?’ My husband was napping eight hours a day, now he’s down here doing Tai Chi, yoga, everything.
“The best part of this is that they have young people who treat old dinosaurs like us — who are demanding and confused and devastating — with such respect. When you say ‘Thank you’ to one of these high school children they say, ‘It’s a pleasure to serve you.’ Now you know young people don’t treat old people like that,’’ said Goldszer, who moved from Pittsburgh, her home of 65 years.
Ken Fishman, 74, a retired attorney, finishes a competitive game of ping-pong with receptionist Anthony Perez, 21. “He’s ahead in the series, two matches to one,” Fishman notes. Fishman, who moved from his Palm Beach home, used to play tennis but a double hip replacement four years ago took him off the courts.
“People ask how long it took me to adjust. I say, ‘five minutes.’ I was looking for somewhere I could have people to socialize with and meals prepared and medical care and a lot of activities. Busy, busy, busy. Keeps you young. Not a dull moment.”
Cost of living
Of course, living at The Palace isn’t cheap and Medicare does not cover assisted living. Medicaid and other governmental programs offer some services but these are limited and not common in the assisted living industry.
Pew Research Center’s Susannah Fox reported that seniors, 65 and over, numbered 39.6 million in 2009 (the latest year for which data is available) — about one in every eight Americans. By 2030, there will be about 72.1 million seniors, twice that of 2000, and will represent 19 percent of the population.
Income is not keeping pace. The average family in Miami-Dade earns $45,000 annually — which would not cover the $55,200 annual cost of the least-expensive studio unit at The Palace.
Not surprisingly, Palace residents are people who were able to build a nest egg or were able to sell their homes at a profit when downsizing.
“These are residents with disposable income,” García-Serra says. “This will be a great benefit for Miracle Mile which still has some storefronts that are struggling. This new residential population can go down the elevator and walk up and down Miracle Mile and since it’s a retirement community they have time to spend in stores. But not everybody can afford this.”
Harriet Dembrow, 83, moved in in early June from her home in Bay Heights in Coconut Grove. She was The Palace’s first resident.
“I’m a Miamian. I’ve lived here since I was 11. Went to historic Miami Senior High School. I’ve had family who lived in the Palace in Kendall and I met Helen and Jacob many years ago. I knew when I decided to make a change and move out of my house, hopefully the Palace would be ready and I’d be ready and it’s been a good connection. I can walk to Miracle Mile and see what’s happening in the city and be a part of the city.”
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